TrueLove, dir. Alma Har’el│“It’s like we’re all actors… but if you wait long enough the mask comes off.” At first glance, the hauntingly compelling documentary LoveTrue, by director Alma Har’el, is a dreamscape rollercoaster visually preoccupied with vivid color palettes, exhilarating movement, and seamlessly interwoven fragments that distill its sensuous form. Perhaps, then, this line resonates in equal parts with the subject under discussion, “true love”, as it does with the film itself–for the mask is deliberately unveiled and we are left with an intriguing new kind of documentary filmmaking. For an intensely aestheticized film that favors visual seduction over explanation, it’s perhaps more interesting that LoveTrue simultaneously introduces provocative complications to the nature of documentaries in its dual focus on reality and performance, observation and psychodrama, testimony and interpretation–and the fact that Har’el is anything but subtle in doing so.
From the very selection of its subjects, Har’el has revealed that the making of LoveTrue was anything but ordinary. While she didn’t come across the protagonists through traditional casting methods, Har’el’s process involved choosing the locations first, and finding eccentric characters to complement the spaces afterwards. Ranging from Alaska to Hawaii and New York City, each landscape varies in nature and houses a distinct relationship dynamic: a couple of kinky kids pursuing romance in the far North, a bohemian father and son overcoming inner battles under the Pacific waves, and a young musician coming to terms with her parents parting ways in the concrete jungle. A second wave of characters accompanies the three main stories as stand-ins for the protagonists’ future selves, past selves, or loved ones. They’re hard to miss considering the big black letters written across their bright white t-shirts–candidly elucidating their constructed roles to the point of practically beating you over the head with reminders that these scenes have been reenacted as a part of the psychodrama therapeutic tradition.
LoveTrue oscillates unapologetically from cinema-vérité-style scenes of everyday life to full-blown and fancifully choreographed dramatizations, swaying at its own ambient beat to an original score by Flying Lotus. While Har’el’s cinematic sensibilities as both the director and cinematographer can be traced back to her experience with commercials and music videos–such as her mesmerizing collaboration with Sigur Rós on “Fjögur Píanó” (which for the record keeps very much in the tone with the meditativeness of LoveTrue)– the film’s malleability between the boundaries of theatrics and documentation can be pinned on its collaborator and executive producer, Shia LaBeouf. Formerly known for his appearance on popular TV shows and major Hollywood franchises, almost-thirty-year-old LaBeouf has committed himself to rewriting his reputation amongst more artistic and highbrow communities– LoveTrue being a sort of follow-up or continuation to what he started several years ago through widely tweeted public performances.
The fact that the film makes an 80-minute-long habit of resisting methodical descriptions works in spite of its title, for it never attempts to tell us what love “truly” is, nor does it ever effectuate the heart-lifting and gushy romance that it might’ve suggested. LoveTrue refrains from trying to justify the subjects’ behavior, and avoids any preachy judgments on unconventional relationships or even on the society that shaped them. It’s not about what alienated Blake from the popular kids in her elementary school, or Joel from Blake, or Coconut Willie from his so-called soul mate, or Victory’s mother from the Boyd family; rather it’s about their individual experience of said alienation, about how these relationships fluctuate over the passage of time, and how they are moved by it and changed by it, or in the case of John Boyd–how they aren’t. ■
TrueLove│ Director: Alma Har’el│ Screenplay: -│ Camera: Alma Har’el│ Editing: Terry Yates, Alma Har’el│ Music: Flying Lotus│ Cast: – │ Producer: Alma Har’el, Christopher Leggett, Rafael Marmor, Rhea Scott│ Production Company: Pet Peeve Films, Delirio Films, Chicken & Egg Pictures│Country: USA│ Year: 2016│ Running Time: 80 min.│ International Sales: Dogwoof│ Festival: Hot Docs 2016│